Can I start by saying there IS no more safety for the Bundesliga clubs in the bottom three?
Hamburger SV, 1. FC Nürnberg, and Eintracht Braunschweig are not heading into a Saturday battle to see which of them will be “safe” when the dust clears after their concurrent matches. The lone “prize” to be had is a two-leg playoff in which they’ll be defending their Bundesliga status against a highly motivated side from the 2.Bundesliga.
The concept of “safe” hardly applies here, though it’s certainly better than the fate that awaits two of the three clubs, which is irrevocable relegation to Germany’s second tier. No passing “Go” and not only not collecting $200, but facing a significant drop in revenue for the next little while. None of the three clubs will avoid relegation Saturday, rather delay the final judgment.
Add to the complete lack of security to be had in finishing 16th in the table the fact that it is overwhelmingly likely the opponent in the pending playoff will be either high-scoring SC Paderborn or high-scoring SpVgg Greuther Fürth, and maybe everyone can stop pretending the playoff spot is something that it isn’t. It may be the last-chance cafe on the road leading out of the league, but it’s far from safety.
Since the return of the relegation playoff in the 2008-09 season, Bundesliga sides have successfully defended their place two of five times. Nürnberg replaced Energie Cottbus after the 2008-09 playoff with a 5:0 aggregate victory. The following season, der Club evened the top-league’s record by turning away FC Augsburg, 3:0.
Lucien Favre’s 12-match rescue-worker start to his Borussia Mönchengladbach career was capped with a 2:1 win over VfL Bochum at the end of the 2010-11 campaign. Former Fohlen coach Jos Luhukay was hired at Hertha BSC to replace Markus Babbel after the Alte Dame suffered the drop at the hands of Fortuna Düsseldorf.
The alternating of victors between the two leagues continued last year when Markus Gisdol performed similarly to Favre two years prior, escaping direct relegation thanks to two goals in the last quarter-hour of the last match day in Dortmund. Gisdol’s eighth and ninth matches in charge resulted in a 5:2 crushing of 1. FC Kaiserlautern’s dreams of a return to the top flight just a year after suffering the drop.
The Red Devils have a chance of becoming the first club to represent the 2.Bundesliga in the playoff in consecutive seasons since the series was renewed, but it’s as far outside an outsider’s chance as you can get, needing a win and a Fürth loss to draw level on points AND for the results to give Kaiserslautern a seven-goal swing in differential.
This means there is an overwhelming likelihood the “winner” in Saturday’s relegation outcome will be facing either of the second league’s top two offenses. Fürth’s six-goal outburst Sunday put their season total at 62, edging ahead of season-long leader Paderborn, who enter the final weekend with 61.
Paderborn is the surprise story of the 2.Bundesliga this season. Having started the season with just five points from the first six matches and being in the bottom three of the table at the end of matchday nine, Andre Breitenreiter’s side have averaged more than two points earned per match since they were last in the drop zone. Paderborn has taken all three points in twelve of their last seventeen matches, lifting them into second place for the first time after Fürth lost in matchday 32.
The Paderborn offense is fuelled by a pair of long-time 2.Bundesliga veterans ready for their first real chance to show their wares on the Bundesliga stage.
Mahir Saglik currently leads all scorers in the second league, with the same number of goals during SCP’s rise toward the Bundesliga as he has career appearances there: 15. His production this season is his personal best since he scored 27 for Wuppertaler SV in the Regionalliga Nord in 2007-08, bettering his 2009-10 debut with Paderborn by one.
The striker with German and Turkish nationality is joined at the top of the team scoring leader list by Albanian national Alban Meha, who has emerged as one of Germany’s most-dangerous set-piece weapons having scored six times from a free kick spot and once directly from a corner kick. With 12 goals total, Paderborn’s “Snaiper” has been a big piece of helping his club help him perhaps achieve his own personal goal of making his Bundesliga debut.
Meha’s contract with Paderborn currently runs through next season, and it is thought the player would be open to extending with the North Rhine-Westphalia side should promotion be achieved. A victory in their home finale Sunday against VfR Aalen, against whom Meha scored twice in their Hinspiel, and the deal will be done, likely leaving Fürth to fight their way into joining Paderobrn in the top flight.
Fürth’s late slip to third has much more to do with Paderborn’s consistency than any performance issues on the part of die Kleeblätter. The home loss to 1860 München ended an eleven-match unbeaten streak. While some might point to seven draws since the winter break as maybe having left some opportunities on the table, Frank Kramer’s side has shown a determination to return to the Bundesliga just one year after a fairly miserable 2012-13 last-place showing, having spend every week of their return to the 2.Bundesliga in the table’s top three spots.
Should things remain the same in the two leagues’ tables, Fürth would be facing the HSV, the club that ended Fürth’s DFB Pokal hopes in the second round with a 1:0 win. It is the lone 1:0 win of Hamburg’s season and one of just four clean sheets the league’s most-generous defense has accomplished.
Kramer went into that match with a defensive game plan and saw his side largely on its heels, with the HSV launching a barrage of shots onto Wolfgang Hesl’s goal. But this was before the word was out about the defensive issues in Hamburg, as well as before Ilir Azemi became the most-unstoppable scorer of the Rückrunde, and while the talented Nikola Djurdjic was out with an ACL injury.
Azemi scored twice last weekend in front of Mirko Slomka, HSV’s current coach who was not around for the September tournament victory and who has not seen his new team keep an opponent off the scoreboard since his late-February debut against Borussia Dortmund.
The Fürth defense also got a mid-season upgrade via the arrival of Benedickt Röcker, purchased from VfB Stuttgart during the winter break. Röcker has teamed with Mergim Mavraj to form one of the most-reliable central-defense pairings in Germany’s second division.
Whichever of the three clubs find themselves in the playoff spot, they will arrive fully aware that they may be facing the hardest bit of work yet in their efforts to salvage the season from what is generally considered the worst possible outcome for a first-division side. The motivation of joining the Bundesliga from the second league can help close the talent gap inherent when sides from the two leagues face one another.
Additionally, the Bundesliga sides will enter the fixtures with added burdens.
Hamburg is, in case you’ve not heard, facing the prospect of their first-ever drop from the Bundesliga, the only original member yet to suffer relegation.
Quite the opposite, Nürnberg is hoping to avoid adding to their record number of relegations, having been already sent down seven times, most recently after the 2007-08 season.
Then there is Eintracht Braunschweig, about to finish their first Bundesliga season since 1985 with hopes of a last-day mini-miracle to set up a chance to avoid last season’s fate. Having been the league doormat since matchday 12, BTSV is on track to repeat the 2012-13 fate of the club they now hope to battle if they can extend their season. Fürth also spent the majority of their single Bundesliga season as the league doormat, though long without hope of a late escape by the time the final matchday arrived, ultimately finishing ten points behind 16th place Hoffenheim.
But what the Bundesliga sides will really find themselves battling, in addition to one of two sides excited at the opportunity, is the effects of their own disappointment in having to play lesser competition just to remain in the top league and the idea that successfully finishing 16th at this point is any measure of success. The gap between the top of the second league and the bottom of the first is probably smaller than some of the clubs in the upper class would like to believe, even if falling through it is more painful than many can imagine.
Bundesliga – Bundesliga 2 relegation/promotion play-offs*
Leg 1: 16th (Bundesliga) vs. 3rd (Bundesliga 2) – Thurs 15.05.2014, 18.30 GMT / 20.30 CEST
Leg 2: 3rd (Bundesliga 2) vs. 16th (Bundesliga) – Sun 18.05.2014, 15.00 GMT / 17:00 CEST
Bundesliga 2 – Third Division relegation/promotion play-offs
Leg 1: 3rd (Third Division) vs. 16th (Bundesliga 2) – Fri 16.05.2014, 18.30 GMT / 20.30 CEST
Leg 2: 16th (Bundesliga 2) vs. 3rd (Third Division) – Mon 19.05.2014, 18.30 GMT / 20.30 CEST
* from Bundesliga.de
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